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Match of the Day: Swans surge home to a memorable win

Sydney skipper Josh Kennedy runs to join his teammates as disappointed opposite number Geelong’s Joel Selwood sits on the turf. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Match of the Day: Swans surge home to a memorable win

Rohan Connolly    

“You can’t write Hawthorn off” was a famous catchcry of the past. Surely Sydney is the latter-day equivalent.

Never had it seemed more apt than when the Swans last year turned around a 0-6 start to the season to win 14 of their last 16 games and once again reach the finals. But they do it within games, too, and Saturday’s effort at GMHBA Stadium against Geelong was an even better example.

After a strong start, Sydney had scored just one goal in two full quarters and fallen 22 points in arrears by three-quarter time. The last quarter was a tidal wave. Just not in the anticipated direction, the Swans charging home with seven goals to one.

The 17-point victory was their third straight win at the AFL’s most intimidating away venue, Geelong having won 18 of 21 games at the Cattery, each loss to the Swans.

They did it without Lance Franklin and the club’s only other key forward Sam Reid, without key midfielder Dan Hannebery. And they did it in no small way on the back of a massive form turnaround from another key on-baller Josh Kennedy.

He was coming off two of the worst games of his career, two flat performances which delivered in total, just 28 possessions. Against the Cats, Kennedy was right back to his best with 33 touches, more than half of them contested, a whopping 13 clearances, and a 13-disposal final term which drove his team over the line.

It was a result which only 30 minutes earlier had looked unlikely to say the least. Sydney, clearly, was going to have to be inventive without a key forward of which to speak. For a while, the Swans had given it a decent crack, too, but the well of inspiration by the last change had long since run dry.

Luke Parker had started forward along with Gary Rohan and Isaac Heeney, and the trio had Geelong’s defence immediately nervous, Rohan with the Swans’ first on the board after nailing a sluggish Mark Blicavs in possession.

Patrick Dangerfield answered soon enough after a lovely tap from ruckman Esava Ratugolea. But Sydney was obviously up and about and the responses came quickly, Ollie Florent converting a mark and debutant Ben Ronke tearing on to a long ball and sprinting into an open goal.

Dangerfield worried the Swans’ defence into conceding a free kick, which James Parsons latched on to for a goal. But Parker answered that, too, Sydney up by 15 points at quarter-time having enjoyed 10 scoring shots with 16 forward entries and notably better on the tackle count 27-17.

Much of the impetus was coming from Callum Sinclair in the ruck, dominant in the first term with 13 hit-outs and nine possessions even against the tandem of Ratugolea and Rhys Stanley, while Heath Grundy was playing Tom Hawkins on a break in the Cats’ forward zone.

That advantage held for a good 15 minutes in the second term. But when the Cats finally stepped up a gear, the scenario changed quickly.

Sam Menegola made the difference just seven points, Sydney unusually lax at the fall of the ball in the defensive goalsquare. Hawkins took the first steps to restoring his battered confidence with a strong mark and conversion.

Young Lachie Fogarty underlined the improvement by nailing Zak Jones and finding Stanley near goal, who also won a small victory with his mark and goal. Geelong, suddenly, was in front. And by two goals after Tim Kelly, playing another cracking game, hit a goalmouth contest at pace and raced into an open goal.

The Cats had turned numbers other than the scoreboard around, too, 50-31the contested ball count for the second term.

Geelong had deployed an extra behind the ball, effectively stymieing Sydney’s extra mobility inside 50. And with the intensity upped, the Swans went from dangerous to dangerously impotent pretty quickly.

Sydney’s fourth goal had come right on the cusp of quarter-time. It wouldn’t score its next until nearly the 17-minute mark of the third quarter, a lucky and contentious goal review overturn.

In the meantime, Geelong had added another couple of goals themselves to Joel Selwood and Parsons. And Heeney’s belated effort was answered smartly enough by a Hawkins increasing in confidence.

The Cats were doing it on the bit, despite their own considerable list of absentees, the likes of Gary Ablett, Dan Menzel, Cam Guthrie, Harry Taylor, Lachie Henderson and Nakia Cockatoo joined pre-game by two more late withdrawals in Scott Selwood and Brandon Parfitt.

But with the narratives about Geelong’s depth and resilience being polished off, seemingly out of nowhere, Sydney found another gear.

Robbie Fox, forced into a relief ruck role, started the comeback in less than two minutes. Zak Jones dobbed one on the run and just four minutes in, it was back to only nine points.

Cory Gregson restored some equilibrium for Geelong, but rather than a circuit-breaker, it proved only a temporary lull, Sydney booting the last five goals of the game.

Will Hayward found space in a forward-pocket to boot his second. Fox dobbed another. And when Ronke snapped from the goal square after the Swans had somehow kept alive a ball seemingly destined for a boundary throw-in, Sydney was in front.

With Kennedy leading the way, from every centre bounce, every stoppage, the Swans simply willed the ball forward. Heeney made something out of nothing, hitting a perfect centre from hard-up on the boundary to Florent, who gave them breathing space.

And Hayward’s third, a lovely little checkside effort on the run, sealed the deal. This was an inspiring win, one of Sydney’s best in years, which, given the amount of success this club has enjoyed, is a big call. But a deserved one.

GEELONG 2.3 6.7 9.8 10.9 (69)
SYDNEY 4.6 4.7 5.10 12.13 (85)
GOALS – Geelong: Parsons 2, Hawkins 2, Gregson, Stanley, Kelly, Menegola, Dangerfield, Selwood. Sydney: Hayward 3, Fox 2, Florent 2, Ronke 2, Parker, Jones, Rohan
BEST – Geelong: Kelly, Duncan, Selwood, Menegola, Hawkins. Sydney: Kennedy, Sinclair, Lloyd, Heeney, Grundy, McVeigh, Mills.
INJURIES – Geelong: Parfitt (foot) replaced in the selected side by Zach Guthrie, Horlin-Smith (concussion).
REPORTS – Jordan Murdoch (Geelong) reported for rough conduct on Isaac Heeney (Sydney)
Umpires: Stevic, Harris, McInerney


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